California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. delivered a sharp rebuke to Washington on Monday for doing too little to tackle climate change.
They said federal inaction drove governors to create the "Western Regional Climate Action Initiative," a pact involving six states and the Canadian province of British Columbia that is aimed at cutting the pollution blamed for speeding up global warming. Schwarzenegger came to Salt Lake City on Monday to jointly announce, with Huntsman, that Utah is joining the partnership.
With Utah making the commitment, "I know that other states can't be far behind," said the California governor, a Republican whose state is credited with having the nation's most progressive policies to reduce climate change.
"It sends a very clear message to the federal government: We are forming this partnership because of the lack of leadership from the federal government."
Neither the Republican Bush administration nor the Democrat-controlled Congress escaped criticism at the Governor's Mansion news conference where the two signed the pact. The two GOP governors noted their partnership includes four Democrats, including New Mexico Gov. and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson.
"This isn't about party politics," said Huntsman. "It's about doing the right thing for all of our citizens."
The partnership includes setting up a standardized system of measuring greenhouse gasses this year, setting regionwide and state-by-state goals for emissions-reduction benchmarks and establishing a "cap and trade" marketplace for trading those emissions sometime next year. In addition, participating states will improve energy efficiency and promote greater use of renewable energy.
Huntsman first became intrigued by the initiative when it was announced at a national governors' meeting last February. Since then, scientists have released a series of new international reports that assert climate global warming is being speeded by human activities, that people need to prepare for it and that reasonable solutions can soften the likely effects.
A couple of weeks ago, Huntsman signed up Utah as one of 31 states that are tools to measure the "greenhouse gasses" behind climate change. Many businesses and policymakers predict such a system will be needed soon, when greenhouse gasses come under government or market-based controls.
Huntsman already has set a goal of improving energy efficiency in Utah homes, businesses and government buildings by 25 percent in the next eight years. He said in coming weeks he will adopt a policy that Utah will use a certain amount of renewable energy by a certain date.
Both governors said the West has a lot to lose by failing to reduce the rate of global warming, which is expected to bring more drought, fire and shorter winters to the region.
"Higher temperatures are an economic threat to all of us," said Schwarzenegger, the former movie action hero.
In California, he said, the strategy of dealing with climate change, and marshalling technology to help do it, has been successful. "We have proven we can do both."
Both Huntsman and Schwarzenegger talked about the importance of technology for dealing with climate change. Doing so is critical for a state like Utah, where coal has been the mainstay of the energy supply and a key component of the regional energy market.
"It's not like saying, 'Stop producing coal,' " said Schwarzenegger. "But let's find ways to produce clean coal. It's not saying, 'Stop flying big airplanes.' No, but let's create different engines with hydrogen or biofuel. Technology is the answer. Not to stop those things and try to roll the clock back to the Stone Ages."
Sarah Wright of Utah Clean Energy, an advocacy group, agreed the partnership can benefit both the environment and the economy.
"It's a huge step for Utah and the West because it shows our leadership," she said.
Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the national office of the Sierra Club, praised the governor's leadership and underscored the failure of Congress and the White House to deal with climate change.
"In the states," everyone is eager to tackle these issues," he said. "But back here in Washington, it's business as usual."
The Sierra Club on Monday urged the Bush administration to grant California a waiver it has sought to toughen emission standards for vehicles. Schwarzenegger mentioned that request during his Utah appearance, saying Washington should stop impeding states that try to take the initiative.
Kristin Hellmer, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, challenged the governors' assertion that the Bush administration is not doing enough.
"That is just not the case," she said. "We've just chosen a different path."
She said the Bush administration has spent $37 billion since 2001 on climate-change science and programs, and it has requested another $7.5 billion for 2008. White House initiatives include mandatory, voluntary and incentive-based programs, she said.
Dorner disputed that view: "It's pretty apparent to anyone who looks in-depth that the administration is doing nothing on climate change."